lemon soda

Green Bee: Lemon Sting

History: According to Michigan State University, “It has often been said that bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat.” Chris and Lori Kinkcade thought they should be responsible for four flavors of soda as well. Chris Kinkade is a beekeeper in Brunswick, Maine and the founder of Green Bee Craft Beverages. He remembers looking at a jar of honey and thinking, “I could make something out of this.” Local honey might be the source of Green Bee soda’s flavor, but Kinkade’s kids are really the reason it exists. “They were always bugging me for soda, and I never wanted to give them what’s on the market,” he conceded. This led to the company’s first flavor of soda: Lemon Sting. As you might expect, with the health of children as the inspiration, Green Bee approaches soda in more of an organic, lower calorie way than what’s typical to the marketplace. “To us, it’s about fresh soda,” he says. As described in the company’s motto, “The Green Bee Way,” they say they “always use whole ingredients,” including “fresh pressed juices, natural herbs and spices.” They also do not use preservatives or extracts. When it comes to Lemon Sting, our review today, Lori Kinkade notes it’s made “from freshly squeezed lemon juice, rosemary and wildflower honey.” Sounds like a drink that would make Julia Child proud. The Green Bee website describes Lemon Sting’s taste as “fresh, clean flavor with crisp finish.” We like to call beverages like these “farmer’s market sodas” because they’ve just got that mom n’ pop feel to them and are made with minimal sugar (in this case solely honey) and use real, fresh ingredients. Buzz, buzz.

Where to get: Green Bee lists out where you can find and purchase their soda right here. For those outside of New England, you can buy it online via Green Bee’s official retail partner Jackeez.

Nose: Honey. Earthy honey.

Taste: Lemon; herbs; honey. The three main components of Lemon Sting are lemon juice, honey, and rosemary, and that’s spot-on in terms of what you taste. The lemon and honey are immediate and hit flush in the center of your tongue. There’s initially just a touch of sweetness from the honey that comes out, but soon the lemon juice becomes the dominant of the two flavors, though it does retain the honey’s earthy notes. This is not a sweet soda, but also not bitter – pretty typical for “natural sodas” in that regard. After a couple sips, the lemon and honey form a light, sweet lemon flavor like one might find in a tea. Then there’s the rosemary. I always taste this separately from the lemon and honey. It definitely imparts and herbal flavor to the soda near the back half of each sip, but doesn’t really add anything to the initial flavors. The lemon-honey combo is the star of this soda. The honey isn’t overly strong and the lemon isn’t too sour. The flavors compliment each other well.

Finish: Strange aftertaste. It’s like what a corn tamale tastes like. Not sure how this happened, but it needs improvement.

Rating: Natural sodas are a polarizing category, often looked down upon by old school soda drinkers and lauded by the new farmer’s market wave of diet-conscious hipsters. If you’re a rootin’ tootin’, sugar lovin’ root beer or cola fanatic, this probably won’t be your thing. For the rest of you, read on. I don’t know many people who’d drink a soda where lemon is the primary flavor, so it’s good Green Bee has recognized that and used local honey from Brunswick, Maine to cut into this powerful ingredient. When paired with with honey, the lemon flavor in Lemon Sting is present enough to make an impact, but transformed in a way that should appeal to fans of both natural beverages and citrus soft drinks. The honey has a very natural, earthy flavor. It is not sweet. The lemon tastes authentic, like something you’d find in lemon-lime soda with the volume turned up. My biggest disappointment is the soda’s third ingredient: rosemary. It’s such a fantastic herb with great flavor, and if you didn’t look at the ingredient list, you’d probably never know it was in Lemon Sting. You can occasionally taste it as kind of a general herbal flavor on the back half of some sips here and there, but it’s not prominent enough to affect the overall flavor profile. It’s exciting to read about, but ultimately never happens… reminds me of my sister’s wedding. If the rosemary was brought up higher in the flavor profile, I think if could play off the honey’s sweetness and give Lemon Sting’s earthy flavor more character. If you enjoy tea with honey and lemon, this is tailor-made for you. Lemon Sting is a solid offering for a natural soda with notes of earthy sweetness. I think you’d be best-suited drinking this on a hot day in the sun, perhaps paired with a sweet treat in hand.

Three Stars

Santa Vittoria: Limonata

Santa Vittoria Limonata 1History: When talking about the culinary capitals of the world, you’ll hear several cities in Italy mentioned. Florence, Rome, Bologna. Food is basically a religion in Italy. One culinary element you might not automatically associate with the Italians: soda. Santa Vittoria is attempting to change that notion. You’ve heard of Italian soda, but this review today is literally a true Italian soda. Santa Vittoria bottles all of its soda in Italy and offers four flavors: chinotto, aranciata, aranciata rossa, and limonata. First and foremost though, Santa Vittoria is known for its premium mineral water. The company saw soda as an opportunity to offer another high-end product, particularly in restaurants and cafes. “The inspiration behind launching a range of Italian Sodas stemmed from the desire to provide a total product offering for our clients who strive to serve the best beverages in their venues,” says Santa Vittoria Senior Marketing Manager Josh Passaro. Americans might already detect the similarities between Santa Vittoria and San Pellegrino Sparkling Beverages from the name to the flavors to the nutritional information. If you’re in this boat, on the surface, you’re not wrong. What stands out about Santa Vittoria sodas, Passaro says, is that they “contain 12% fruit juice, no preservatives and are combined with sparkling Italian water.” So in essence, you’re kind of getting the the water for which they’re known for free. It’s like a buy-one-get-one sale where you don’t resent yourself after leaving the store. In terms of popularity, Passaro says chinotto (bitter orange) and aranciata rossa (blood orange) are the top sellers. For all this talk about Italy, here’s a delicious little fact: Santa Vittoria, while bottled in Italy, is headquartered in Sydney, Australia and distributed in Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and portions of the Asia Pacific region. And now it’s reached America. Soon it will reach my mouth.

Where to get: According to Passaro, Santa Vittoria is mostly sold at physical locations. You can also purchase Santa Vittoria Soda online here and here. Americans, your best bet is emailing the company.

Nose: This is a lemon soda, but it definitely smells of musky lime.

Taste: Tart citrus; pungent lemon; mild sugar; light carbonation. On first sip, you get slammed with intense citrus and lemon, and then a small wave of light bubbles. The citrus element is where you’ll taste a little sugar, while the lemon is bold and tart. There’s a sharp acidity to this. You could even call it astringent. This is noticeably more bitter than American citrus sodas, but calling this a citrus soda would be incorrect. This is unmistakably lemon soda. The lemon is tart and acidic, leaving a bite on the back of the tongue. You can certainly taste real lemon juice in every sip. You do get a little hint of lime throughout the drink, but we’re uncertain if it’s actually an ingredient. The sugar is mild. Santa Vittoria really chose to highlight bitter notes with Limonata.

Finish: Mostly tart lemon that tastes authentic with a little bit of lingering sugar. Highly acidic and might sting the tongue on some drinkers.

Rating: The Italians love their citrus fruits. The entire Santa Vittoria soda line is based on them. So we went with traditionally the harshest: lemon. The company’s Limonata soda definitely captures the essence of what you’d think a carbonated lemon would taste like in liquid form. It’s tart and bitter. There’s a sweetness, but it’s really an afterthought when assessing the soda as a whole. I think it would be fair to compare this to San Pellegrino, which I’m sure may have already crossed your mind. What you’re going to taste here is lemon, and to a lesser degree, citrus. The lemon tastes real and it is; you can literally see the pulp in every bottle. It’s also strong and reminds me of squeezing a real lemon with sugar on it into one’s mouth. The citrus element is sweeter and tastes like a combination of lime and faint grapefruit. Santa Vittoria’s Limonata isn’t going to be for everyone. The sour notes might make your face muscles tighten up harder than a botched Botox session. On the flip side, for those who enjoy a bitter soft drink, this should be right up your alley. Compared to American sodas, this one really feels European and has a lot of the calling cards: mild sugar, tart notes, bold fruit flavor, and lax on carbonation. Personally, this is a little bitter for my tastes. I wouldn’t mind seeing the sugar dialed up a bit. The tart lemon works really well. It just needs an element to help reign it in. But for a lemon soda, this is very solid. It really nails the main flavor. We’re just not quite certain how ready America is for it.

Old City Soda: Lemon Soda

History: Old City Soda is one of the new kids on the block in craft soda. Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, Old City Soda’s owner, Mike Gulley, sought to harken back to the way soda used to be made in the old days with craft and care. He wanted to blend the old methods with new ideas, flavors and fresh ingredients. Gulley started making ginger beer back in 2011 at a Cleveland restaurant called Paragon. That led to a soda-making series at The Cleveland Flea. If that site doesn’t tickle your inner-hipster, then you aren’t drinking enough green smoothies or wearing enough accessories. In 2013, he launched his own soda line. Like several newer faces in the craft soda industry, Gulley targeted his beverages to pair with alcohol. What really stands out are the flavors. Lemon soda? Cinnamon soda? Hibiscus? Who does that? And most Old City Sodas clock in at under 100 calories. The company name even has a cool little backstory. “Altstadt” was a common name in Gulley’s family ancestry. It stands for “the old city.” In fact, his grandparents still maintain a newsletter called the “Old City Beacon.” The bear you see on the company’s soda bottles even comes from the family crest. It’s all cyclical… revolutions, my friend. Here’s a note for all you health-conscious folk; to ensure freshness, the company does not pasteurize or use preservatives in its products. You actually have to keep the bottles refrigerated or the ingredients go bad much faster. The time from bottling to your mouth is only a matter of days. Flavor potency and authenticity are what this new kid on the block prides itself upon.

Where to get: Gulley and his business partners are still a small operation. They’re working on distribution at the moment. Until then, they’re open to larger orders directly through their website. You can also subscribe there to get the latest updates.

Nose: Lemon meringue pie; lemon juice; light key lime.

Taste: Lemon juice, light sugar. This is lemon soda, not lemon-lime soda. It’s simple and light. That said, the lemon flavor is strong on the first couple sips. Could overwhelm some people. The flavor is very natural. This tastes like someone squeezed a bunch of real lemons in here, which is nice and refreshing. (The soda does contain 20% juice. You’d swear it was more). The more you drink this, the more the sugar comes through. A majority of Old City Sodas contain under 100 calories, so the sugar is never going to be a critical part of the flavor, but it does a nice job mellowing out the strong lemon you get in the beginning. This soda was geared toward being a mixer and when mixed with alcohol, the lemon is nearly perfect, light and full of citrus-infused flavor.

Finish: Pure lemon juice that tails off into a faint key lime flavor. If you drink this quickly, the carbonation brings out more of a bold sugar flavor in the finish.

Rating: This is a soda that lives two lives. On its own, it’s the ultimate sipping soda. A beverage that amplifies in flavor and drinkability on every sip. However, this is also its potential downfall with consumers. The lemon zip is abrupt and up front on the first couple drinks. It’s a little, “Hey, I just met you and you can’t put your hands there yet.” But give it time, baby. It’ll woo you as you get to know it better. The lemon really mellows over time. It’s highly suggested you take your time with this beverage as opposed to downing it in 10 minutes. The lemon has a nice, natural flavor and a palatable amount of zing. It probably isn’t something you’d consistently drink on its own unless you’re a citrus buff, but it’s nice for a hot summer day. This soda has another side though, the one for which it was intended. On its own, its a summertime sipper, but pair it with vodka or gin and this becomes a liquid party. In fact, Gulley noted this is basically an instant Tom Collins in a bottle, minus alcohol. He was right. For those who think the natural lemon flavor might be too strong to drink as a soda, it really lightens out in a cocktail. Its lemon punch cuts the alcohol, yet provides considerable refreshing citrus flavor. Careful, drinking too many happened to us happens. For those who enjoy citrus or those who enjoy sipping beverages, give this a try on its own. For those who’re looking to have a good time and like their nights in a highball glass, try this with booze. And if you don’t like either of those, then we probably shouldn’t hang out.